The University of Maine basketball team picked up a big conference win on Saturday, winning 79-72 against the Bryant University Bulldogs in The Pit.
UMaine entered the game with a 12-8 record, 5-1 in conference play, coming off a 62-76 loss to UMass Lowell. Bryant entered the game with a 14-8 record, 6-1 in conference play, coming off a 99-95 win against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Fifth-year guard Sherif Gross-Bullock opened the scoring for Bryant with a layup off an out-of-bounds play. Second-year guard Jaden Clayton drained a wing three to put the Black Bears on the board. Gross-Bullock and Clayton traded two more buckets, respectively, before Bryant’s fifth-year forward Connor Withers got involved in the scoring action with a three.
Maine’s offense was stagnant at the start of the game, with multiple miscommunications leading to several sloppy turnovers. Clayton was the only one whose shot was falling, and he was keeping the Black Bears in the game with his aggressiveness, including a beautiful spin move leading to a lefty layup off the glass.
Despite his efforts, Maine was down 27-16 with just under seven minutes left in the first half. Gross-Bullock, Bryant’s leading scorer, got a technical foul after complaining about getting his fourth foul on a block attempt. The Black Bears smelled blood in the water and capitalized on the momentum after the technical. The offense finally started clicking, and Maine went on an incredible 11-0 run, capped off by a jumper by third-year forward Kristians Feierbergs.
Fourth-year guard Earl Timberlake ended Bryant’s scoring drought with a layup, but Clayton quickly responded with a jump shot after crossing over his defender. Then third-year forward AJ Lopez took over, scoring on a step-through jumper and driving layup to give Maine a 31-29 lead, their first since 18 minutes into the game.
The Bulldogs responded quickly, scoring three straight buckets to retake the lead. Just before the halftime buzzer, Feierbergs hit a shot to narrow the deficit to 33-35. Although Maine’s field goal percentage was only 38.7% compared to Bryant’s 51.7%, they could draw fouls and convert from the free-throw line.
Bryant got to the free throw line to start the second half, with more free throw attempts in just the first two minutes than they took in the first half, to go up 40-35. That’s when it became the AJ Lopez show. The 6-foot-5 forward scored nine straight UMaine points, reducing the Bryant lead to one. The Black Bears again took the lead with a layup by fourth-year forward Peter Filipovity.
Maine expanded their lead to 10 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the half. Bryant then went on a 7-0 run to tighten the game. The two teams traded buckets back and forth, and with under four minutes left, Bryant was now only down by one.
An offensive rebound gave the Black Bears the opportunity to make a statement play, and that’s exactly what Feierbergs did. With the shot clock winding down, he drove to the basket and slammed down a vicious poster dunk, easily the play of the game. Along with many free throws, layups by Filipovity and Clayton ended the Black Bears’ two-game losing skid 79-72.
Clayton led the Black Bears in scoring with 24, with Filipovity also putting up a 21-point double-double. Lopez scored 15 off the bench, and Feierbergs reached double-digits with 10.
Maine will look to continue its climb in the American East standings when it travels to face rival University of New Hampshire this Saturday.